Albatross fight!

I went to check on a nest in an empty lot.  In the front yard next door, a scene from the never-ending  albatross soap opera was playing out.

Some people see albatrosses as being like perfect little people.  They mate for life, they put on elaborate displays with other albatrosses, they take good care of their chicks.  There is not much aggression going on in their world, they seem to get along with each other with very few problems.  But over the years I have watched many albatross fights.  I have seen one albatross flip another off his feet.  They chase, they bite, they scream.  Sometimes I can feel the tension growing, I can see one albatross staring at another with sudden intensity.  At other times, it is a complete surprise when one bird suddenly turns and attacks another.

In this film, an unbanded bird was doing a bit of a friendly bill duel with the bird sitting to the left.  A bill duel is often a social introduction, an interaction between albatrosses who do not know each other very well.  The bird on the left, K897, seemed larger than the other two birds, so I thought of the group as being composed of a male and two females.  I could be wrong, of course.  To accurately determine sex, a DNA test must be done.

Another albatross came and sat in the front.  She did not seem to know what to do, so she started poking the bird on the left to get his attention.  He started looking left and right, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do, who he should interact with.  Finally he just got up and walked away.  The intruder decided to follow him.

That was too much for the unbanded one.

The bird who was attacked was wearing a yellow leg band, which is not one that is used on Kauai or Oahu.  I sent the information to the USGS Bird Banding Lab to see where she was banded.  I will post the information.

I have never seen this albatross before.  She needs to learn about the social niceties here to avoid another attack.  Obeying the rules of albatross ettiquette is an important part of life in any albatross community.  It just might save a bird from a thumping.

 

 

 

 

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Update on Bad Mama

I stopped by Bad Mama’s nest yesterday to see what was happening.  When I got there she was sitting about 6 feet from the nest.  As soon as she saw me, she ran over to the nest, like a naughty child who was feeling guilty.  Perhaps she was actually protecting it from me, I cannot read her mind.

Her mate will come back and incubate the egg.  Last year, he stayed there until the egg broke, about 3 weeks.

Stay away from my abandoned egg!

When I start my albatross dating service, you can be sure that Bad Mama’s mate will be at the top of my list.  I will not even collect any squid from him for my hard work.  He deserves a freebie.

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How not to incubate an egg

This is the Bad Mama Technique.  It never seems to result in a chick.

A young male built this beautiful nest, then abandoned it.  In his defense, he had never nested before.  With some of these birds it takes a while to learn the right way to do it.

A beautiful nest, but no parent!

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Statistics

As of today, I have seen about 150 albatrosses in Princeville, and we have 45 nests.

Of these 45 nests, 19 are female/female.  That is approximately 42%.

How do I know that some of the couples are two females?  Either this season or in previous years there were two eggs at the nests of these 18 couples.  An albatross can only lay one egg, which means that there had to be two females at the nest.

An albatross cannot incubate two eggs.  Yesterday I was going to remove a second egg that was interfering with KP894’s ability to keep one warm enough to survive.  She and her partner have never had a fertile egg, so it was doubtful that even this egg removal would help, but there is always hope.  I was unable to take the egg because she turned into a fire-breathing dragon and tried to kill me. Some people think that these birds must recognize me and have special feelings for me.  Most of the time I am just part of the scenery to them, but occasionally when I get too close, they let me know that they would really rather not share their world with me.  That’s fine with me, wild animals are usually better off if they do not trust human beings.

One of the female/female couple always builds their nests uncomfortably close to the golf course driving range.

Too close to the driving range!

There will be more nests to come, and there will eventually be chicks at some of them.  Last year about one third of the couples that had nests had healthy chicks that fledged from Princeville.  It is an honor to help them, even if my help is shockingly underappreciated.

 

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How to let a male albatross know that he should shove off

When bluKP226, Gator, started following half of a female/female couple around my street, this is what she did:

  1. She stopped and faced him.
  2. She spread her wings out so she seemed to be much larger than Gator.
  3. She lifted her bill into the air, thereby increasing her height.
  4. She screamed.  She is woman, hear her roar!

Gator turned around and walked briskly back to my neighbor’s front yard.  He was able to jump another female, also part of a female/female couple, and I hope that the couple chooses to incubate the egg that he fertilized.  We need more chicks; males like Gator are willing to do their part.  We have so many female/female couples in Princeville, and every season they waste many hours patiently sitting on infertile eggs.  Given the chance, they always show good mothering skills.  So I say, “Thank you, Gator, for your contribution to the future of this species.”

Such a forward-thinking bird!

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How many albatrosses have returned so far?

The albatrosses are drifting in one by one.  The same thing happens every year; it seems as though there just aren’t as many birds as there usually are.  So I sit down and count all of the ones I have seen.  As of yesterday….

Seventy-three!!

We have three eggs so far.  Unfortunately, the first one was Bad Mama’s, the bird who always abandons her eggs.  Her poor, beleaguered mate, KP515, was faithfully executing his dad duties by taking the first shift.  Who knows, perhaps Bad Mama will surprise us all and raise her chick.  But as one person said, “Do we really want to spread those genes around?” This is one of the many things we do not really know about these birds.  Could a proclivity towards egg abandonment be inherited?  Or did she possibly suffer some type of brain injury?  Or are both possible?

The other two nests have parents that will faithfully execute their duties.  There are many more nests to come, undoubtedly.  I look forward to finding each one.

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Circle the bird that does not belong

Just don’t tell HIM that he doesn’t belong!

The golf course gang

The white bird at the top of the picture is a snow goose who usually hangs out with the local nenes.  No, people, this is NOT an albino nene.  I do not know how long this bird has been on Kauai, but I have been seeing him for at least 5 years.

The albatross eventually chased the nenes away, but not the snow goose.  Perhaps he is prejudiced in favor of this color combination.  More likely, he goes after the locals because the nenes can sometimes turn into a pushy little goose gang that a well-bred albatross finds offensive.

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